August 2018

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Nicolas WaernEMAIL INTERVIEW –  Ken Sinclair and Nicolas Waern

Nicolas Waern is the CEO of the fast-growing Nordic IoT company Go-IoT and is usually accompanied with the hashtag #Thebuildingwhisperer on Linkedin and Twitter. He loves what he does, and he knows he’s in this business for the long run, having the time of his life. Go-IoT makes it easier for others to harmonize data in buildings as well as simplifying the transfer of any data to and from the edge to any cloud, leveraging all that is BACnet with their dynamic BACnet server on the edge. Their offering consists of open and modular software and hardware solutions which form a powerful edge gateway under the name of DINGO and Go-IoT Cloud. Their solutions have the power of converting any sensor technology into BACnet objects, creating a BACnet umbrella for everything making SCADA systems, BAS, BEMS and anything in between, IoT-Ready. Why not take advantage of all that the API economy has to offer?

“The Building Whisperer” – Making buildings talk to people.

Making Buildings talk to People

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Sinclair:   Hi Nicolas, great to talk to you.  I hope you had a great time in Helsinki. I have been in the business now for ages, but I am curious to hear what you think. You are 2.5 years in, what is your take on this amazing industry that is Building Automation?

WaernI had a great time in Helsinki, and I can honestly day that it feels like a long way since I started in this industry. It's fascinating that it is such a world of its own!  If I talk about Smarter Buildings, BACnet, to anyone outside Building Automation, no one has a clue. That might not be the case in the US, but this is definitely the case here in the Nordics and especially in Sweden. And even if I talk to people who are in the business here in the Nordics, some people still put and equal sign between Modbus and BACnet thinking they are the same. Which is as far from the truth as possible, and that is why I always have a BACnet tutorial ready, in case someone wants to (needs to) know more.

Going back to the question, I do believe that it is an amazing industry to be in. What I saw early on, 2.5 years ago, when I first was introduced to the concept of BAS, was that it was ripe for disruption and that building automation as a whole, has a glorious future ahead.

Sinclair:   What do you mean?

Waern: If you look at smartphones, they all have an app store, right? And if you look at connected vehicles, they too are starting to become less hardware and more software where the focus is on building a platform and opening up an eco-system.  Volvo are now utilizing the Android Platform to build great solutions on top of it. Why re-invent the wheel?.

You can’t do everything on your own. And even if you can, you shouldn’t.  The business is being disrupted slowly but surely and IoT companies are coming in to further reduce annual operating costs, resulting in a significant increase in net operating income and a strong boost to property value as Daphne Thomlinson writes here

It seems to me that the industry has been dominated by a few big ones, no one in the middle, and then there’s a lot of smaller companies working in silos. I believe that the future lies in anything but proprietary. What other industries have done is that they have had to evolve in order to support the creation of open, modular, secure solutions where you allow others to create robust, useful and attractive offerings in an easy way. That’s where the building automation industry is heading, albeit slow. Of course, Wework and similar companies are making ripples all over the world but I don’t think everyone is aware of the platform economy that’s going to come.

Sinclair:   How do you think we can move faster together? What needs to be done to get to this open eco-system?

Waern: Well, as you have pointed out with #RUIOTREADY I think that we all have to think short and hard if we are ready? And if we are not, why not? And if we are, what are we ready for?

And I think that when you say “move faster together,” that the together part is very important here. I see it for our solutions that in order to think outside the box, we first have to be better at defining the box. Sticking to your knitting, whilst pursuing collaboration is the key moving forward. This is a new field. That is why we collaborate with experts in various fields, such as iioote where they help us to collect data from LPWAN technologies, because that’s not what we should do.

But, as someone told me the other day;

“No one will touch it if it doesn’t break. And even if it does break, no one will touch it if it isn’t critical!”

I am not sure if this is 100% true or not, but I can definitely see that it has some relevance. If IoT, or anything else that is deemed novel, isn’t solving an immediate need, why bother? And that is why it’s equally refreshing to read what Scott Cochrane says about the work that is being done by system integrators here;

“…not only accomplishing huge value on these projects within typical budgets, they are actually saving the entire project and life cycle of the building huge amounts of money.”

I think there are mainly two things that need to be done in order to move faster together:

  1. Companies have to be much better in narrowing down their offerings, proposing concrete, simple solutions that fill a need for their intended customer. Sharing the risk in the beginning to create some solid use cases and focus on the MUST HAVE’s, not the Nice to have’s.
  2. We need champions of change and solid use cases that are generic, scalable and applicable to the BAS industry and its stakeholders. We need to hear more about the wireless solutions that work. We recently did some interesting work with powerline communication to AHUs on the roof, EnOcean lighting control, using BACnet/WS to easily and securely connect to 3rd party applications all underneath the BACnet umbrella. We need more focus on open and modular hardware software solutions making work easier for everyone in the business and also people on the “outside” coming in.

Sinclair:   Making it easier for others to make sound decisions, sharing the risk sounds about right. And where do you think companies should start?

Waern: This is a question that has interested me since the start. The industry is moving closer to the edge as you have written yourself and it is clear that most of the value will be derived from the edge and through modular IoT Edge Gateways.  We agree with you and Marc Petock and probably thousands of others that this will disrupt the industry providing a quantum leap in capabilities, connection, control and apparent simplification of everything as well as Powering the Edge to the Enterprise.

The recent figure from Worldwide Embedded and Intelligent Systems Forecast stating that IoT gateways and IoT edge devices will represent the largest business opportunity in IoT. From 16B devices to 60B going from $15B revenue to $24B in revenue. And our focus area, IoT Edge Gateways representing the highest annual growth rate going from $784M to $1.3B revenue until 2022. This made me smile from ear to ear when I saw it at a networking event from Ericsson. We are in a perfect place for the future and if you haven’t started already, you should definitely be thinking of living on the edge.

We have some serious competition, but our approach of having open and modular software and hardware solutions is starting to get global attention. And we believe the future is in the open and modular space doing more with less. Shameless plug of course.

But the real reason why I have been asking this myself on where to start is obvious. Why does it sometimes seem like nothing is happening in this industry if we compare it to other industries?

At the edge is the future, but where to start? I wrote an article a couple of months ago as a response to Tyson Soutters's great article here about the very subject on where to start with Smart Buildings.

Smart Buildings, where to begin?

He argues that no one gets it and that “they focus on the fruits of the tree (smart outputs) rather than the roots (the underlying data infrastructure).”

And that if you plant great roots, the juices will flow eventually.

True. But how long does it take to plant a tree and then wait for the juices to flow? For someone who doesn’t love BAS the way your readers do, probably too long. I argue that gimmicky might be gold in the way that it will lead to quicker wins and a buy in from the organization. Which will lead to a much softer approach, true, but hopefully also faster towards humanistic digital inclusion.

I mean, nowadays, anyone who says BACnet, I smile, and I can engage in conversation for hours. But for “those darn pesky people in our buildings” as you have written before, maybe the gimmicky and gold is where to start? After all most buildings are still uncomfortable to live and work in.  Strategy is important, no doubt about it. And it probably comes down to the universal truth of “it depends.” But I do think that it needs to be a bit of both in order to better get the user buy-in that is needed to get a momentum going.

Sinclair:   Okay, gimmicky is gold.. I rather like that! And if you would choose three things to start with, what would they be?

Waern: Fantastic question. This is something that we have been thinking of a lot on our own and in brainstorming sessions with our customers. Our primary customers are mostly system integrators. No doubt about it. In the discussions with them, we hear that we are “the JACE-Killer” in that we do things faster, somewhat cheaper, and in an open and modular way. These customers almost always go for the number one thing, which is getting data out of the building and making trend logging easier. Maybe it’s because we are experts at it, and it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy? But as Kelly Reiser at Smarter Buildings LLC puts it;

“The real value of trend logging is that it is crucial to any application of advanced analytics, M&V, continuous commissioning and AI of most types.”

Therefore, referring to both what I answered earlier, about trying to make it simple, as well as referring to Gordon's Kitchen nightmares and also Ruari Barnwell's article here, I have composed a three course menu;

        1. Automated trend logging from the building. Getting all of those BACnet objects out of every controller on site, remotely of course, and making sure you implement the latest tagging as far as the standard allows, and get that data to some database somewhere. Our customers are starting to see great results turning days of work into hours. All you need is our modular hardware and software edge controller, The DINGO
        2. Analytics and push back commands to the building. You have gotten historical data as well as continuous data from the building, and now it’s time to push back some commands and control to the BAS system. There are several ways of doing this in a bi-directional way. We have a BACnet/MQTT recipe for IBM Watson, as well as the possibility of a RESTful API if that is needed. We are also working on an XMPP gateway in order to track changes down the line for a customer. But, the simplest, fastest and most direct way is through BACnet/WS. What most people don’t know is that you lose core functionality with MQTT and other protocols, and why not stick to BACnet all the way? In our eyes, it’s even better than a double rainbow! So, creating a bi-directional gateway harmonizing data from any LPWAN technology, creating your own analytics platform or partner up with others to  No doubt about it. What most people don’t know is that you lose core functionality with MQTT and other protocols, and why not stick to BACnet all the way? In our eyes, it’s even better than a double rainbow! So, creating a bi-directional gateway with the ability to develop your own, or partner up with others to create autonomous actions on the intelligent edge would be the next step that we can take today.
        3. Making it easier to connect “outside” applications to the BAS/BACnet World. You have started to create the onset of a much smarter building with feedback loops and the potential of continuous improvement.
Could this be in the form of “edge-bots” in order to “analyse quickly, while it still matters”? 
    Absolutely! But even more so, we could help customers get their own analytics engine, creating new business models for their customers. This could “simply” be done through connecting the BACnet network via BACnet/WS to another Web Service of your choosing. Why not connect it to tools and applications like Grafana, Wattics, Ecopilot, DGlux, or municipality backbone services such as the powerful Infracontrol, or anything else out there in a secure and standardized way?  Why not deploy sensors from any make out there, convert it all to BACnet objects and have everything underneath the BACnet umbrella? We are heavily looking into BACnet Secure Connect, preparing for BACnet/IT which will be ground-breaking in the possible ways buildings can become smarter.

    The imagination is the only thing that sets the boundaries. Unfortunately, that’s what it does.

    And that is why concrete examples are needed more and a ladder towards a cognitive building has to be very precise in what is possible, making it easier to take those first steps. We have to be better at it, most certainly. And the only way we can do it, is to get more and more customers to tell us what they need.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]Sinclair:   Very interesting Nicolas, and this seems like a good approach into getting smarter buildings. To summarize, what are the most important facets of a building that we need to think about? Where is the future?

Waern: The why aspect shouldn’t be neglected. By 2025 buildings will be the number one consumer of energy worldwide, overtaking transportation and we do spend 90% of our time indoors. Real estate has to move towards a platform-economy more and more move as Daphne Tomlinsson stated in the beginning. Security will be one of the most important topics that we need to address more as Bob Sharon from Blue Iot in Australia addresses here.

Trust and openness are extremely important moving forwards but the fundamentals for me when it comes to buildings, and solutions for buildings, lie in the famous three Vitruvian virtues, Firmitas, Utilitas and Venustas.

It originates from architecture and it means that a building must be robust, useful and attractive for its user(s). I think this holds true for any product in any industry but of course even more so when it comes to buildings.

A building needs to be both useful and robust, but the emotions it will evoke in a person will matter even more in the future. And this holds true to the very solutions that are being used in order to make buildings into the “Smarter Buildings” we are looking for.

We have seen it with the NEST, in that making something beautiful and attractive will make it win more ground. We have seen it with Apple products. And we will see it even more with all products going into a building and even more so with ones which end users connect to. Demand-controlled ventilation is one where more focus is placed on creating a dynamic experience for the users, and I know that SWEGON here in Sweden are doing great things in this area, proving that wireless = reliable using mesh technology from Lumen Radio.

Changing the way we think about buildings, making them more attractive and useful, focusing more on the well-being aspects, that’s where I want to see more things happening. Urbanisation is a global mega trend and more focus has to be put on the well-being and productivity aspects.

But at the same time, doing this at scale, in robust and useful ways, requires roots that are firm and strategically placed in order to get the juiciest fruit in the long run. Wireless is by no means the answer to everything. But it is growing and it will take a bigger place moving forwards. And that is why this industry is so fun to be in. It always depends and there’s no silver bullet.

I am still fascinated by the fact that Building Automation is in a world of its own. It needs to come together with the rest of the world and I do believe we all have to work together more from a Smart City Context in order to make buildings aware of what they really need to be aware of.

Sure, companies have stated that we are the “JACE-killer” but that’s almost opposite what we see ourselves as. We are an open and modular hardware and software alternative and a complementary product to other powerful solutions out there. Yes, we make it simpler to connect the building to anything on the outside, and for anything on the outside to be connected buildings in a seamless way. But it is together we’ll make this industry move forward and great things are happening, that’s a fact.

I haven’t even begun to list the things that I see possible with VR/5G/Machine Learning/AI/RPA/BIM/Digital Twins/SECURITY - on the edge, or in the cloud, IoT in general or any other thing that fills my mind on a daily basis.

All the technology is here. It is just us people that need to start implementing. With that said, what are you waiting for? Go out there and start! And if you ever need help in making your buildings talk to people, just let us know. Go IoT!


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